Hours after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 hackers stole classified information from the computers of senior officials involved in the search operation. Hackers stole classified information from the computers of senior Malaysian officials involved in the hunt for missing flight MH370 and sent it to China, it has been claimed.
Officials at Malaysia’s National Security Council and Civil Aviation Department were among the targets, according to a report in Malaysia’s The Star newspaper. The breach of security was detected by CyberSecurity Malaysia, a government agency controlled by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. The group eventually had the “transmissions blocked and the infected machines shut down,” the newspaper added.
However, Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab, the head of CyberSecurity Malaysia, said the hackers succeeded in stealing significant amounts of information, including “minutes of meetings and classified documents”. “Some of these were related to the MH370 investigation,” he added. “It was a very sophisticated attack.”
Malaysian authorities suspect the hackers were specifically looking for information related to the MH370 investigation, the report suggested. The attack reportedly took place on March 9, one day after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. “Sophisticated” malware was sent to officials involved in the search disguised as a news story claiming that the plane had been found. Around 30 computers were compromised.
Dhillon Kannabhiran, a cyber security expert, told the newspaper the attack would have required “a lot of planning and work”. However, there would have been limited opportunity for planning if the attack had taken place in the 48 hours following the plane’s disappearance as reported.
Of the 239 people travelling on the Boeing 777 when it vanished 152 were Chinese citizens and China has played a central role in the ongoing drama. Beijing was initially critical of Malaysia’s response to the disaster and its aggressive tone infuriated Malaysian leaders and citizens alike. “China wants Malaysia to be transparent over the missing jet … like China knows what transparency is,” one blogger was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail. Beijing eventually tried to rebuild bridges, gifting two pandas to Malaysia in May after postponing their delivery in the wake of the disaster.
The Star’s report offered no motive for the cyber-attack nor did it attribute blame to any particular group. A Malaysian official declined to make any immediate comment on the story. China has repeatedly denied accusations of engaging in cyber-espionage, claiming instead that it is the victim of such tactics.
Five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army were indicted by the US Justice Department in May for the alleged theft of trade secrets. During a visit to China last December, David Cameron reportedly pressed Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, over cyber-spying.
Earlier this week a major US healthcare provider claimed Chinese hackers had used “highly sophisticated malware and technology” to steal the information of around 4.5 million patients.